A professor at the State University of New York has found evidence of a large fish species previously thought to have been a legend.

According to the university, Dr. Donald Stewart pursued a mysterious second species belonging to the genus Arapaima, one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. It is commonly held that only one species of the Arapaima exists, the A. gigas. Capable of reaching over eight feet long and weighing several hundred pounds, this fish is highly sought after by both anglers and those hungry for a good meaty filet. Strangely, the species is also one of a few that require surface oxygen to breathe, and regularly comes up for air every five to 15 minutes.

Swiss biologist Louis Agassiz proposed that the Arapaima contained another species in 1829, but his writings were largely ignored. Nearly two centuries later, Steward has come upon Agassiz’s work while studying conservation in Brazil and Guyana.

“What is remarkable is that this fish was not rediscovered swimming in the Amazon but, rather, on the pages of a rare monograph from 1829 that described its anatomy in great detail,” Stewart said.

Agassiz’s research is now incredibly rare and only exists in a few book collections cross the world. Building on his predecessor’s work, Stewart compared the Swiss biologist’s findings to other studies accumulated over the past two hundred years. His research, including finding a sketch of this strange second species, led Stewart and his team to believe that it really did exist. Unfortunately, scientists do not know if this Arapaima species, named called A. agassizii for Agassiz, exists in the wild. Arapaima have been widely fished in recent years, leading countries like Brazil to issue a commercial ban on the fish. They are now considered uncommon in the Amazon’s rivers, although easy to find because of their tell-tale surfacing to breathe.

Stewart does not find the discovery surprising, saying that vast areas of the Amazon have yet to be explored for scientific research. The professor expects at least two more species of the Arapaima to be substantiated through further study.

Image from Cliff on the Wikimedia Commons

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